If you are facing stalking charges and not taking them seriously, you might want to reconsider your thoughts. If convicted, you could wind up in state prison for up to five years. The cost of your freedom is surely immeasurable.
Your story might read something like this one. You become friendly with an older woman from your church, who is suffering from a terminal illness. You visit regularly, and she ultimately pays you to clean her house. In fact, she’s nice enough to throw you a couple of extra dollars every now and then.
Meanwhile, you can’t help but notice your friend’s adult son. He’s charming, and you are impressed with how good he is to his mother. You feel as though the two of you would make at least good buddies. In fact, you already feel like family.
You become angry when your friend dies. Her son doesn’t even include your name in his mother’s obituary. Outraged, you decide to call and give him a piece of your mind. He hangs up on you and asks that you let him mourn in peace.
It Often Starts with Harassment
As the days and months progress, you can’t help but wonder what’s so important in the son’s life that he doesn’t even want your friendship. You begin calling and texting. You send email after email. You contact the son on social media and even make Facebook posts obviously directed at him.
Initially, the son repeats his wish that you leave him alone and even warns you that he may need to go to the police if you don’t stop harassing him. He tells you that you are causing him extreme anxiety.
As far as you are concerned, initiating multiple communications isn’t any big deal. However, you should know that harassment charges on their own could mean trouble. In fact, you’ll likely need to appear in municipal court. If you’re found guilty, you will face penalties associated with a disorderly persons offense.
Nevertheless, you refuse to be ignored. You brag to some church acquaintances that you are watching the son throughout the day. You follow him to his father’s house and drop off a package. You monitor his visits to friends and business meetings. You need to know what is more important than responding to you.
What Constitutes Stalking?
Unfortunately, our example provides a typical example of what constitutes stalking. What also matters is how the other person reacts to being followed or monitored. Your biggest issues come if your actions would “cause a reasonable person to fear” or result in significant mental suffering or distress.
NJSA 2C:12-10 provides valuable insight concerning stalking charges. For starters, it means “repeatedly maintaining a visual or physical proximity to a person,” whether you do so directly or indirectly. You should know that repeatedly just means more than once.
Your “course of conduct” might also include asking a friend or neighbor to be on the lookout as well. By the same token, the court may view you as stalking if you repeatedly harass someone. As previously noted, a harassment charge is a lesser offense on its own. However, it too comes with its share of penalties.
You can also be found guilty of stalking if you use any means of communication to threaten or imply harm of some type.
Stalking represents a more serious offense than harassment. Other states refer to it as a felony crime. In New Jersey, the law considers stalking an indictable crime. This means your case goes up to the superior court.
Penalties for Stalking
Stalking convictions are divided into crimes of the third and fourth degree as follows:
- Crime of the Fourth Degree: If the prosecutor proves that what you did to someone would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety, you face penalties associated with a crime of the fourth degree. The same is true if concerns are raised about the safety of a third person. Additionally, proof that you caused the victim emotional distress by stalking them also falls into this category.
In the meantime, you should know that a crime of the fourth degree puts you at risk for up to eighteen months in prison and as much as a $10,000 fine.
- Crime of the Third Degree: Your stalking conviction becomes a third degree crime if you violate an existing court order that prohibits your repeat behavior. In fact, it doesn’t matter if there is a restraining order. The mere fact that you’ve previously been found guilty of stalking the same person puts you at risk for the penalties associated with a third degree crime. Meanwhile, the same is true if you’re serving time or on probation or parole for any indictable offense.
The penalties for third degree criminal convictions could mean as much as five years in state prison. You could also face fines up to $15,000.
The law also considers a conviction for stalking as an application for a permanent restraining order. According to NJSA 2C:12-10.1, the court may order you to stay away from a number of places where you could come in contact with the victim. You would be also be required to stop all communications potentially viewed as an annoyance or that might alarm the victim.
All things considered, you may not realize the serious nature of a stalking charge. At the Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafajlo, we will advocate on your behalf to have charges downgraded or dismissed entirely. Contact our offices to schedule an appointment regarding your legal defense.